A circular walk from Tintagel to Bossiney Haven

Tintagel to Bossiney

The path to Bossiney Haven is closed due to a rock fall. This does not affect the walk route, just the optional diversion to the beach.

A circular walk via through Tintagel to Tintagel Castle and along the coastline via the headlands of Barras Nose and Willapark to the sandy beach at Bossiney Haven from Tintagel Haven where Merlin's Cave is uncovered at low tide.

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The walk starts from the Visitor's Centre and passes King Arthur's Great Halls and the Old Post Office on its way to Tintagel Castle. The route then follows the coast to Barras Nose - the first coastal land ever purchased by the National Trust - and continues past the Iron Age hillfort at Willapark to the cliffs above the sandy beach at Bossiney Haven. It returns to Tintagel via Bossiney, where Sir Francis Drake was elected to Parliament.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111
  • Distance: 2.7 miles/4.4 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in dry weather

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 111 OS Explorer 111 (laminated version)

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)

Highlights

  • Sandy beach at Bossiney Haven
  • Panoramic views over the Tintagel coastline from the headlands of Willapark and Barras Nose
  • Cream teas and quirky mystic shops in Tintagel
  • Views over Tintagel Castle and Tintagel Haven from Barras Nose
  • Tintagel Old Post Office and King Arthur's Great Halls

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Cornishman
  • The King Arthurs Arms
  • Wootons Inn
  • Ye Olde Malthouse

Directions

  1. Make your way past the entrance to the Visitors' Centre to follow the path behind the bus stop and emerge on the pavement. Turn left onto the road and follow it to the roundabout next to King Arthur's Great Halls.

    King Arthur's Great Halls in Tintagel were built in the 1930s by a custard millionaire whose company is thought to have invented "hundreds and thousands". The Halls of Chivalry are built from 53 different types of stone and are big enough to hold 1000 people. 72 stained glass windows by Veronica Whall (a pupil of William Morris) tell the story of King Arthur and show the Coats of Arms and weapons of the knights. Over two million people have visited the Halls since they opened in June 1933.

  2. Cross the roundabout straight ahead onto Fore Street. Continue along the road past the Tintagel Arms to the Old Post Office on your left, opposite the King Arthur's Arms.

    Just after the roundabout and King Arthur's Hall, look on the right side of the road for Aelnet's Cross, which is behind the railings in front of some flats.

    Aelnet's Cross is located on Fore Street in Tintagel next to King Arthur's Great Halls, behind the railings of what used to be the Wharncliffe Arms Hotel (now converted into flats). It is just over 4 feet tall and has a sort of wheel-head cross on both sides along with Latin inscriptions. The cross itself is of the 5th-century, though the carvings and inscriptions could be later (possibly 10th or 11th century). Originally it stood at nearby Trevillet where it was in use as a gatepost.

  3. From the Old Post office, continue ahead, past The Wootons Inn until you reach the sign for Tintagel Castle by a track on the left on the far side of the Wootons Inn.

    Tintagel Old Post Office is a 600-year-old Cornish Longhouse set in cottage gardens, retaining its mediaeval slate-paved hall and fireplace. It was built in the 14th Century when Tintagel Castle belonged to the Black Prince. In the 19th century, the house was used as the district Post Office when the introduction of the penny post meant the trek to the Post Office in Camelford became too much of a burden. For over 100 years, it has been owned by the National Trust.

  4. Turn left down the track to the castle marked "To the coastpath". Then follow the public footpath on the left indicated for the castle until it rejoins the castle track further down.

    "Pasty" was another word used for "pie" throughout England from the Middle Ages onward, and did not necessarily imply the characteristic shape and crimping we associate with the Cornish Pasty. A pasty recipe from 1746 contains no veg, just meat (venison), port wine and spices. The first "Cornish pasty" recipe is from 1861 which contained just beef and no veg.

    Even during Victorian times, main meat available to poor people would have been pork. The Cornish dialect word for a pork flatbread eaten in the mines during the 18th and 19th Centuries is hogen (pronounced "hugg-un") which evolved into "oggy" - the dialect word for pasty. The really poor had a "tiddy oggy" (with no meat at all).

    The "traditional" Cornish Pasty recipe contains beef, onion, potato and swede (referred to as "turnip" in the local dialect from its more formal name of "Swedish turnip") seasoned with salt and pepper. It's thought that this probably dates from the late 18th Century (when the Poldark novels were set) when potatoes and turnips were a staple diet for the poor but the first documented "traditional" recipe is not until 1929. Over 120 million Cornish pasties are now consumed each year.

  5. Bear left onto the track and follow it towards the castle until you reach a signpost where a path departs to the left.

    Tintagel Castle (also known as "King Arthur's Castle") is perched on an island which was joined by a land bridge in the Middle Ages. The ruins of Tintagel Castle that you see today were built in the 13th century by Richard Earl of Cornwall. From coins and pottery fragments found at the site, it is thought that before this, the site might have originally been a Roman settlement, and later, in the early Middle Ages, a Celtic settlement. There is speculation amongst historians that the site was a summer residence for one of the Celtic kings, perhaps leading to the legends of Arthur.

  6. When you reach the signpost, keep right to follow the main track down the right side of the valley until you reach a small car park in front of some buildings.

    The mystic romance of the Vale of Avalon might have been helped along by its north-facing situation, placing the sun behind you when walking towards the sea which is what's needed for rainbows.

    The centre point of a rainbow is as far below the horizon as the sun is above it. The lower the sun is in the sky, the taller the rainbow.

  7. Continue ahead to pass the buildings on your left. At this point you may want to look at/around the castle and beach. Afterwards, make your way to the bridge over the stream beside the fence to continue the walk.

    According to Arthurian Legend, Merlin lived in a cave below the fortress of Tintagel during Arthur's childhood, and was his teacher. Tennyson made Merlin's Cave famous in his Idylls of King Arthur, describing waves washing infant Arthur to the shore, and Merlin finding him in a sea cave and carrying him to safety.

    The cave is 100 metres long and passes completely through the island beneath the castle, where the sea has eroded a fault containing a band of softer rock. At high tide, the cave is flooded (so one can assume Merlin was a good swimmer!), but at low tide you can walk through from Tintagel Haven to the rocky West Cove on the other side.

  8. From the fence by the bridge over the stream, cross the bridge and turn right and go up the steps. At the top, bear right to the public footpath signpost in front of the building.

    English Heritage began in 1983 as a government department responsible for the national system of heritage protection and managing a range of historic properties. In 1999 it was merged with the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England and the National Monuments Record. In 2015 a charity was formed called English Heritage Trust which was split off from the government to manage the National Heritage Collection (which is still owned by the state). The "English Heritage" name is now associated with this charity. The remaining government body is known as Historic England and is responsible for the statutory and protection functions that were part of the old organisation.

  9. From the footpath signpost, follow the path left, up and over the cliff, until you reach a waymark just after a footbridge.

    The rocky headland is known as Barras Nose.

    Barras Nose is a rocky headland located just east of Tintagel Castle and its island, to the north of the village of Tintagel. This was the first piece of coastal land ever bought by the National Trust in 1897. In Victorian times, the Castle Hotel was originally planned to be built on Barras Nose which gave rise to a local campaign to purchase the headland and save it. It's a popular spot with locals for fishing as there is a rock platform and several surrounding reefs. From the top of the headland there are excellent views to the right, across to Willapark, and to the left, of the castle.

    A rocky scarp runs nearly all the way across the neck of Barras Nose, forming a natural defence similar to those that were created by hard labour at the cliff castles on surrounding headlands. It's therefore quite possible that Barras was adopted as a "prefabricated" hillfort and flint tools have been discovered which show there was human activity here from at least 4,000 years ago. The name itself may also hint at its history: in the 1890s, it was known as "Barrows Cliff".

  10. From the waymark, you have two options. The direct route is to the right, up the steps, to reach another waymark at a junction of paths. Alternatively you can turn left to explore the headland then make your way back along the top until you reach the junction of paths.

    Heather plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungi which grows inside and between some of the plant root cells. Up to 80% of the root structure can be made up of fungi. The fungi are able to extract nutrients from poor, acidic soils that plants struggle with. In return, the plant is able to generate other nutrients (e.g. sugars by photosynthesis) that are useful to the fungi. A similar partnership between plants and fungi occurs in lichens.

    The area of the Atlantic between North Cornwall and Ireland is also known as the Celtic Sea - a name first suggested in the 1920s. The newfangled name has caught on more in academic and surveying circles. The public generally use "Atlantic" where "the bit of it near here" is automatically implied.

  11. When you reach the waymark on the top of the headland, keep left on the coast path and follow it towards Bossiney to a gate.

    The Sisters are two small islets that were once part of the headland of Willapark on the opposite side of the bay from Tintagel Castle. Underwater, they are still linked: the protruding islets are surrounded by a large shallow reef with a depth of less than 2 metres around the rocks. The Sisters are home to a large breeding colony of razorbills and guillimots and also have a sizeable population of cormorants.

  12. From the gate, continue along the coast path to pass a waymark and reach a crossing of paths just after passing through a gap in a wall.

    The small blue pom-pom-like flowers have common names which include blue bonnets, blue buttons, blue daisy and Iron Flower but it is best known as sheep's bit. The name is said to originate because sheep enjoy eating it. Confusingly, it is sometimes known as "sheeps bit scabious", yet it is not at all closely related to the group of plants normally known as "scabious".

    Sheep's bit flowers are rich in nectar and are a favourite with bees and butterflies. The flowers are highly reflective to ultraviolet which is thought helps to attract insects. The reason that insects can see UV but we can't is that insects' eyes have colour receptors that are tuned to different wavelengths than ours but also the lens of the human eye blocks UV light.

    Stonechats are robin-sized birds with a black head and orange breast that are common along the Cornish coast all year round.

    During the summer months, stonechats eat invertebrates. As temperatures drop and there are not so many of these about, they make do with seeds and fruit such as blackberries. Quite a few die in cold winters but this is offset by their fast breeding rate during the warmer months.

  13. At the crossing, bear left and follow the path along the coast until you go through a gap in the wall with a Willapark National Trust sign beside it and reach a waymark.

    On December 20 in 1893, the Italian ship "Iota" was driven against the cliff at Lye Rock near Bossiney Haven. The crew were able to get onto the rock and, apart from a youth of 14, were saved by four local men who received medals for bravery. The boy who died is buried in the churchyard of St Materiana on Glebe Cliff, and his grave marked with a wooden cross.

  14. At the waymark, the path to the left leads out onto Willapark headland. You may want to take a short diversion from the route there to admire the view. Then follow the coast path from here in the direction waymarked to Rocky Valley until you reach a V-shaped stile.

    The large headland in Tintagel to the east of Barras Nose is known as Willapark, not to be confused with Willapark in Boscastle where the coastguard lookout is based. The name Willapark is based on two old Celtic words meaning "enclosed" and "lookout". The headland was fortified by an earth rampart across the neck of the headland to create a hill fort in the Iron Age. When the gorse was burnt off, circular marks became visible indicating the positions of huts. Much of the ramparts were removed or adapted to allow quarrying from the headland, so relatively little remains now.

  15. Pass through the stile and follow the path to reach a footbridge.

    Lye Rock, facing into the bay at Bossiney is barely attached to the headland of Willapark and will soon (in geological terms anyway!) become another rock stack like The Sisters. It has a seabird colony that once housed the biggest Puffin colony in Cornwall. In 1948 there were estimated to be 2000 puffins here. By 1982 there were none. There is still a sizeable guillemot and razorbill colony and some cormorants too.

  16. Cross the bridge and follow the path up the steps to a kissing gate.

    The gully to the beach at Bossiney Haven is a holloway thought to date back to Mediaeval times. Up until the end of the 19th century, it was the route used by trains of donkeys hauling sand up from the beach for use in fertilising the fields.

  17. Go through the gate, descend into the gully and turn right to follow the path inland signposted to Bossiney. Follow this uphill to where the gully opens out into a field near a gate in the wall.

    Bossiney is a village on the north coast of Cornwall, now adjoined to the larger village of Tintagel which lies the the south-west. Only a large mound, next to the chapel, remains as evidence of the twelfth century castle at Bossiney. Almost certainly, the castle was built by Reginald, the illegitimate son of Henry I of England who made him Earl of Cornwall. According to legend, The Round Table of Camelot is supposed to be buried under the ruins of the Castle and on the eve of the summer solstice, the Round Table will appear when King Arthur and his knights are due to return.

    Bossiney was one of a number of small parliamentary boroughs established in Cornwall during the Tudor period. Sir Francis Drake was elected MP for Bossiney in 1584 after giving his election speech from Bossiney Mound. War broke out with the Spanish in 1585 and his attention turned to their Armada.

  18. Bear left to follow the well-worn path towards the phone mast and join another sunken section of path to reach a gate.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  19. Go through the kissing gate on the right of the gate and cross the parking area to the road. Turn right and carefully walk on the road through Bossiney then join the pavement from Westground Way and follow this past The Butts and back to the Visitors' Centre.

    The Butts was the area used for archery training during the Middle Ages by longbow Archers. In 1252, all Englishmen between the age of 15 to 60 years old were ordered, by law, to equip themselves with a bow and arrows.

    Mediaeval longbows were formidable weapons that pierce armour at more than 250 yards away, with the arrow leaving the bow at around 200 mph. There is a story of a fallen knight found on horseback where an arrow had gone through one leg, right through his horse and embedded itself in his other leg.

    Typical longbows had draw weights up to 120 pounds and since most people today would struggle to draw even a 60lb longbow, this took a substantial amount of practice. A trained archer was expected to shoot 12 to 15 arrows per minute and hit a target a minimum of 200 yards away.

    In 1363, it was made obligatory for Englishmen to practise their skills with the longbow every Sunday and holiday. It "forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training, especially archery practise".

    According to the New Monthly Magazine of 1827:

    The ancient Cornishmen were most excellent archers; they would shoot an arrow twenty-four score yards; their arrow was a cloth yard long. wherewith they would pierce any ordinary armour. A person named ARUNDEL would shoot twelve score with his right hand, with his left hand, and behind his head; and one Robert BONE shot at a little bird upon a cow's back, and killed the bird without touching the cow.

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